Throughout the band’s career, The Black Keys have been peddling a view of women that, while certainly in line with the blues tradition the band trades in, is not only wholly uninteresting, but is also glaringly reductive. Not much has changed with Turn Blue, the Black Keys’ eighth album of original material, where, among the muscular riffs, women are mere caricatures, often painted as temptresses in desperate need of the guidance and fulfillment that can be provided by a man. On “Gotta Get Away,” Dan Auerbach laments, “All the good women are gone,” and elsewhere on “It’s Up To You Now,” he can’t help but feel exploited by a woman who’s left him.
Despite that, Turn Blue isn’t without its charms, though most of them are surface-level pleasures that only serve to mask the rote storytelling hidden underneath. Album opener “Weight Of Love” is a solid blues cut that’s more comparable to the raw Rubber Factory-era Black Keys than these more recent forays into shimmering production values. Singer and guitarist Auerbach never seems more at home than he does on this track, navigating an almost seven-minute jam of tempo changes that create a palpable sense of build and release. “In Time” is another highlight, boasting the swampy feel Auerbach applied to Dr. John’s 2011 record Locked Down as a producer.
Outside of those tracks, though, Turn Blue is sonically mundane. As with 2011’s El Camino, and his work with Broken Bells for that matter, Danger Mouse’s production here too often infringes on the more sparse arrangements the songs are built around. Both “Fever” and “Year In Review” indulge in so many extraneous percussion and synth effects—not too mention the blanket of reverb and echo—that the central melodies and hooks get lost in mix. The band continues to push into more experimental territory on this record, but often that means just adding multiple layers of production tricks rather than deploying them in an interesting and engaging manner. Alongside the overblown production, Turn Blue boasts a rudimentary and monotonous vocabulary. Feelings are always “heavy” or a “burden,” and love is consistently “dark” or “light”; it’s thematic territory that feels stale for the band, and the result is an album that aspires to talk about the complex nature of relationships, yet has nothing meaningful to say.